Southampton joins world-first national pancreatic cancer tissue bank project

Staff and patients at Southampton’s university hospitals are set to become part of a world-first project to improve research into pancreatic cancer.

The hepatobiliary (liver and gallbladder) and pancreatic surgery service at Southampton General Hospital, which is the largest in Europe and is the UK’s leading centre for laparoscopic – keyhole – techniques, is one of six centres that make up the national Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF) Tissue Bank.

The £2 million innovation, funded by the PCRF, will bring together surgeons, pathologists, oncologists, researchers and database experts to co-ordinate a national and international resource that will help to speed up the diagnostic process and develop new treatments.

Around 8,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year – the eleventh most common form of the disease – with a five-year survival rate of less than 10%.

The new facility, based at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), will store tissue donated by consenting patients with diseases of the pancreas undergoing biopsy or surgery at Southampton General and five other hospitals. All samples will be anonymised before being banked.

Uniquely, the tissue bank will not only house samples of patients’ pancreatic tumours and other pancreatic diseases, but will also store blood, saliva and urine. Each donation will be logged with detailed medical and, where possible, genetic information so researchers can request exactly the right type of sample for their research.

“The development of a national tissue bank is vital to ensuring further progress in treating pancreatic cancer and we are delighted to be one of the centres at the forefront of such an important milestone,” said Mr Mohammed Abu Hilal, a consultant hepatobiliary, pancreatic and laparoscopic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital and Southampton project lead.

“In Southampton, we have a very strong team of oncologists, gastroenterologists, radiologists, pathologists and surgeons, who are continuously introducing the most advanced treatments to improve outcomes in patients with pancreatic diseases and, in surgery, we have pioneered and led the national development of keyhole surgery for pancreatic and liver diseases.

“However, more dedicated efforts and attention to research and development to improve early detection and surgery is needed and that is why this innovation to so important to patients and clinicians.”

Mr Hilal, who is a founding member of the patient-led Liver and Pancreatic Research and Development Charity, which was established in 2012 to provide further funding for research in the city, added: “At present, many patients are diagnosed late when their cancer has spread, which means surgery can only help a small proportion of patients.

“The key to changing that on a significant scale and for the long-term is through earlier diagnosis and the development of new, alternative treatment options – and the national tissue bank will give us a good chance to run research projects on a large scale with a better chance of producing strong evidence.” 

Maggie Blanks, founder and CEO of the PCRF, said: “Researchers told us that progress was being held back by the scarcity of high-quality tissue samples on which they can test their ideas and validate their research. For research results to be more meaningful, the samples must be collected, handled and stored consistently, following strict procedures.

“A nationally co-ordinated tissue bank will not only ensure that more samples become available to researchers, but that these are quality controlled to provide a much better basis for the very best research to be carried out. It’s a huge commitment for the charity but, thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we’ve been able to make it happen.”

The trusts which make up the initial tissue bank group alongside University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust are Barts Health NHS Trust, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, Swansea’s ABM University Health Board, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Each organisation will act as a tissue bank collection centre, adding samples of tissue, blood, urine and saliva from around 1,000 new patients each year.

Professor Hemant Kocher, a pancreatic cancer researcher at Barts Cancer Institute, QMUL, and project lead for the tissue bank, added: “This is a  highly ambitious venture, but one that is crucial to enabling researchers to investigate new treatments for this most lethal cancer.

“Many proteins associated with pancreatic cancer are also found in blood, urine and saliva, so having these materials from patients alongside the tissue samples helps us to find ways to diagnose the disease at an earlier, curative stage.

Posted on Friday 15 January 2016